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Camping with the Family Dog: Tips and Tricks for a Safe Trip

March 26, 2018

For some, camping is much more fun when the family pet comes along, but others would take it a step further and consider bringing along the dog to be a foregone conclusion. But in either case, you’ll want to be sure to prepare yourself properly, so that you ensure everyone – including your four-footer – has a great time and stays safe.

Accordingly, we’ve put together a number of helpful tips and tricks for dog owners who want to let their pet tag along during their next trip.

Fit Your Dog with Proper Identification

Anytime your pet leaves the confines of your home or fenced yard, he should have a collar and ID tag, but it is especially important to ensure he is so-equipped when heading into the great outdoors. Even the best-behaved dogs can tear off into the brush in pursuit of small critters. And the only way you’re likely to be reunited with a runaway pup is through the kindness of strangers (or animal control, as the case may be) and a proper ID tag.

Make sure that the ID tag is easily visible and that it includes your dog’s name, vaccination status and several different ways to contact you (an email address is often the most effective choice). You can also have your dog microchipped, as this will serve as a fail-safe practice that will still be effective if your dog’s collar breaks. However, only a vet or animal control officer is likely to have the equipment necessary to read the implant.

Attach a GPS Tracking Device to Your Pooch

ID collars and microchip implants are helpful tools that may help reunite you with a lost pet. However, they are both passive tools; you’ll be forced to sit around and wait to see if someone finds your dog and goes to the effort of delivering him back to you. But you can also use active tools, such as a GPS tracker, to help find your pup relatively quickly.

Most GPS trackers work in conjunction with your smartphone. By using an app or signing into a website, you’ll be able to see your dog’s position on a map. That doesn’t mean that it will be easy to reach your dog – he’s likely much faster than you are – but it will give you a much better chance of bringing your dog back home safely if he happens to run off into the woods.

Make Your Pooch Carry His Own Food

Camping is supposed to be fun for everyone, but this means that everyone – including your dog – has to carry their own weight. Most dogs healthy and athletic enough for camping can easily carry their own food and water if outfitted with a high-quality pack. You can also stuff your dog’s water bowl (more on this below) and a toy in most cases.

Just be sure that you select a high-quality pup pack, so you don’t have to worry about your dog’s food spilling on the trail. Whenever possible, try to opt for a high-visibility pack, which will make it easier to keep an eye on your pooch, and select one with several different types of compartments for maximum packing flexibility.

Keep Your Dog Leashed or Tethered at All Times

Although many people like to allow their dog to run free when on the trail, this is a bad idea that invites tragedy. Wilderness areas overwhelm many dogs, who can’t believe all of the cool stuff to see, smell and pee on. It only takes a second for them to become distracted by a squirrel or rabbit and run after it at full-speed. And because of the unfamiliar surroundings, he may not be able to find his way back to you.

But you can avoid all of this by simply keeping your dog leashed or tethered on the trip. Use a standard leash while walking on the trail so that you can keep your pup close and prevent him from bothering other campers (do remember that dogs – even the friendliest labs – frighten some people and can injure children inadvertently). Once you’re in camp, you can switch over to a lengthy tether, which will give him the chance to run around a bit and explore, without getting too far away.

Buy a Clip-On Light for Your Dog’s Collar

Even though your dog should be tethered or leashed for the majority of the trip, it can be helpful to clip a light on his collar to make it easier to see him at night. Most pet supply retailers carry a variety of different models, and they’re not very expensive at all.

If you are bringing along more than one dog, try to pick a different color light for each pup; this will allow you to tell which one is which at a glance. Make sure to turn your pet’s light off in the morning, but it is a good idea to leave it on throughout the night, so you don’t stumble over him when nature calls in the middle of the night.

Consider Booties for Your Pup’s Paws

While most dogs should be able to handle a mulched or dirt path easily, some substrates – including rocky or ice-coated areas — can damage and injure your pup’s paws. This can present quite a predicament if you find yourself several days deep into a trip and find that you’ll need to carry your pup back to the trailhead.

There are a variety of protective booties available for dogs, but some are better than others. Most are rather affordable, so don’t skimp on quality and try to pick booties that attach very securely to your dog’s feet – many dogs will attempt to shake free of their boots the first time you put them on his paws. Waterproof varieties offer extra protection in cold climates and are well-worth any additional expense.

Treat Your Dog with a Preventative Flea and Tick Treatment

Fleas are quite common in many of the places you’ll camp, so it is important to apply a preventive flea treatment to your dog. Otherwise, these tiny biting bugs will surely find your dog, jump aboard and ride him all the way back to your house, where they’ll lay eggs and colonize your home.

It is also important to select a flea treatment that is effective against ticks too. Ticks can not only leave wounds that are susceptible to infection, they can transmit a number of very dangerous diseases – some of which may be transmittable to humans. But most high-quality flea and tick treatments will quickly kill a biting tick and prevent these types of diseases from infecting your dog.

Pack Appropriate First-Aid Supplies for Your Pet

You’ll want to be able to tend to any minor wounds (or to stabilize pets that suffer major wounds) your pet suffers on the trail, so be sure to bring along any supplies you may need to do so. A lot of the things in your own first aid kit – including things like hydrogen peroxide, antiseptic wipes, triple antibiotic ointment and tweezers — will work for you or your dog, but you’ll want to make sure you bring along any necessary supplies that are canine specific.

This would include things like self-clinging bandages, which won’t stick to your pet’s fur, a rectal thermometer (you don’t want to share this with your dog), and a few strips of cloth to use as a muzzle if your dog becomes agitated following an injury. You’ll also need to bring any medications your pet requires, and it’s a good idea to throw a pet first-aid book or laminated card in your pack too.

Protect Your Pup’s Eyes

If your travels will take you through exceptionally bright locations, such as beaches or high-altitude areas, give your dog a pair of doggie sunglasses or goggles to keep your dog more comfortable. Similarly, it’s also a good idea to give your dog some protective eyewear if you are visiting a windy area, where dust, sand and grit can be blown into your dog’s eyes.

Doggie glasses are usually pretty affordable, and they provide an easy way to avoid a potential problem. Just be sure to try them out with your pooch a few times beforehand, so your pup can get used to wearing them.

Wipe Your Dog Down Before Letting Him in the Tent

If you are going to allow your dog to sleep in the tent (and let’s face it, you can’t say no to those eyes), you’ll want to wipe off all of the mud, dirt and pollen clinging to his fur. You don’t have to give him a full grooming session, but you want him to be relatively clean before going inside.

Pay special attention to your dog’s paws, as they’ll bare the bulk of the filth. Of course, if you fit your dog with booties, you can just take them off before letting him go lay on your sleeping bag. And though it may go without saying, be sure to dry your dog off completely if he’s wet.

It’s also wise to check him for ticks or other creepy crawlies – you don’t want to bring these into your tent. Be sure to check all of your dog’s cracks and crevices, including his ears and the area under his chin.

Bring a Sweater for Your Dog

Just because your dog wears a fur coat everywhere he goes doesn’t mean he can’t become chilled in cold weather – sometimes dangerously so. Accordingly, it often makes sense to bring a sweater or coat for your dog to help keep him warm and cozy.

Admittedly, sweaters aren’t necessary for all breeds; your husky, malamute or Tibetan mastiff will remain perfectly comfortable in temperatures that would send you running for wool socks and a thick parka. However, dogs with short coats – including labs, golden retrievers and pit bulls – may become chilly when the mercury plummets. Additionally, small dogs will usually cool off much more quickly than large dogs, so definitely bring along a sweater for Chihuahuas, Yorkies and other tiny pups.

Invest in Collapsible Food and Water Dishes

Food and water dishes take up a fair amount of space, so do yourself a favor and pick up a set of collapsing dishes. This way, you’ll still be able to provide your dog with food and water easily, without taking up a bunch of your pack space in the process.

Note that many people simply believe their dog will find water while they’re out camping, so they neglect to bring a suitable water bowl. But it is not a great idea to let your dog drink untreated water – he may be fine, but then again, he may fall sick and ruin everyone’s trip. Instead, you’ll always want to bring along a good water bowl and provide him with purified water.

Trim Your Pet’s Nails Before the Trip

Your dog will be walking all over your tent and sleeping bag, so trim his nails before you leave to help protect these items from rips and punctures. Most owners can trim their dog’s nails on their own, but if you aren’t familiar with the procedure, or your dog resists too much, you can have your vet trim them. Many pet stores will even trim pet nails for a nominal fee.

However, don’t try to trim your dog’s nails on the trail if you forget to do so at home. Occasionally, a dog’s nails can bleed during the procedure, and you don’t want to deal with this kind of problem unnecessarily while you’re camping.

Don’t Forget a Fun Toy or Two

Your dog will find plenty of interesting things to keep him occupied and stimulated during the average camping trip, but that doesn’t mean he still won’t want to embrace his chewing instinct while living outdoors. To ensure that he doesn’t eat sticks all week (which, contrary to popular opinion, can lead to serious health problems), you’ll want to make sure to bring something safe that he likes to chew.

It’s also a great idea to bring along a tennis ball or frisbee for dogs who like to play fetch (just make sure you keep your dog’s safety in mind when doing so – a lengthy tether will be helpful for keeping your dog from running off). Your dog will find one way or another to burn some calories and fight off boredom; you may as well provide a safe and constructive way for him to do so.

Bring Poop Bags Along When Traveling Through the Wilderness

Just because you’re in the wilderness, where wild animals answer the call of nature all day long, you’ll still want to bring along poop bags for your pup. Dog waste not only looks terrible and upsets the pristine aesthetic so many campers love, it can represent a potential disease-vector, which can sicken other pets and their human companions.

Plan carefully for this issue: Large dogs can create a significant amount of waste during a week-long trip; you’ll want to be sure to pass by a designated trash can every few days, if possible. Alternatively, you can bury your pet’s waste as you would your own. This is probably a more environmentally friendly option, but it will require more work on your part.

Visit Your Vet to Verify That Your Dog Is Healthy Enough for Hiking

It’s a good idea to visit your vet before taking your dog on a camping trip, just to make sure that he is healthy enough for the adventure. You don’t want to get out on the trail and find out that your dog is sick or unable to live up to the rigors of life on the trail.

This is probably not necessary if your pup has recently seen the vet, lives an active lifestyle and exercises frequently. However, there’s little to be lost by getting your vet’s opinion before hitting the trail.

Dogs make great companions for life on the trail, but you’ll want to embrace the tips above to give you both the best chance for a fun trip. Don’t be afraid to tweak the suggestions above to suit you and your dog; you know what he needs better than anyone else does.

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